Domestic agenda

Before voting, citizens need to consider not only issues of war and peace.

polling station 88 (photo credit: )
polling station 88
(photo credit: )
For over four decades, ever since the Six Day War, Israel's political parties have been defined by where they position themselves on the defense-territories continuum. Other issues germane to traditional Left-Right designations are largely ignored in our electoral showdowns. Tuesday's Knesset contest is no exception, especially as it is being waged on the heels of a military campaign with controversial results. Yet these "other" issues do intermittently dominate public discourse and they do feature in the various party platforms. For example, Israel is now close to dehydrated and a commission of inquiry is hearing evidence about the failure to desalinate and thereby obviate the effects of severe drought. National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) asserted in his testimony last week that "the situation is so grave that it ought to transcend all political polemics and be placed atop our national priorities." He described himself as "Don Quixote battling the Treasury and legal bureaucracy's windmills...," concluding that "irresponsible officials brought thirst upon us." Indeed had conservation and desalination plans submitted in 2005 been implemented, there would be no water shortage today. This charge deserves a response from current coalition members - including from Ben-Eliezer's own party. However, there has been little debate in this campaign on what went wrong and who is to blame. THE SAME goes for law enforcement. All platforms promise to reinforce the police with personnel and budgets. Israel suffers from the lowest population-to-police ratio in the democratic world. This isn't without consequences. Organized crime flourishes, contract killings claim the lives of innocent passersby, while our constabulary seems to have given up the battle against "petty" crimes like burglaries, auto larceny and street violence. No cops pound the beat, quality of life misdemeanors are largely ignored while confidence in the rule of law sinks. Things were never this bad, which, again, behooves incumbents to address their records. Granted, the decline has been ongoing, but it has gained momentum during the past decade. The same is true of the decline in our scholastic achievements. It's nothing new, though the trend has been exacerbated. Neither is it merely a matter of money. Likud, Kadima and Labor have all had a shot at running the Education Ministry in recent years. Israel spends more on education per capita than do states with better results to show for it. Our pedagogic philosophy has been severely flawed for years. No party convincingly addresses the neglect of the three R's and of old-fashioned hard work. Pupils leave school without mastering the basics. The system largely fails to inculcate Zionist values and other essential virtues. Jewish history as a separate field of study was all but expunged from secular school curricula during Shulamit Aloni's (Meretz) 1992 tenure as education minister. Her NRP and Likud successors didn't effectively restore it. Education grabs headlines only when our pupils do abysmally in international tests or in response to sensations like the issue of putting the "Nakba" in Israeli textbooks, as suggested by ministerial incumbent Yuli Tamir (Labor). The Likud platform promises "a return to Zionism" and to "return our youngsters within the decade to top-10 international scores." Binyamin Netanyahu, during a meeting with our editorial board last week, said he had been giving much thought to reforming the education system. Among other goals, he said he wanted to raise the prestige of the teaching profession. Incumbent Kadima doesn't devote manifesto clauses to actual educational objectives, but it promises a long school day, allowing parents to work and earn more. It also speaks of education to further gender equality and of more funds for youth movements. Finally, current education-portfolio-holder Labor promises "the strengthening of democratic and humanistic education based on respect for civil liberties in all segments of life." It pledges help for weaker students to prevent their dropping out, to invest more in the Arab sector, to "educate for coexistence" and teach Arabic in all schools, as well as a long-school day in outlying regions. Before casting our ballots, citizens need to consider not only issues of war and peace, but also those that affect our day-to-day lives on more "mundane" levels. Party platforms are available for perusal on the Internet. The best voter is an informed voter.